Prospect reps pool performance management experiences

Prospect reps pool their performance management experiences

More than sixty reps from across Prospect met in November to hear academics, negotiators, researchers and practitioners outline current thinking on the 21st century’s most controversial workplace practice – performance management.

It is a top concern for members in the public and the private sectors and has been described as a dock labour scheme for the managerial classes, a higher form of bullying and a system that sucks the life out of everything.

Prospect president Alan Grey said the aim of the seminar was to identify good practice, highlight bad practice and enable sectors, reps and members to share experiences.

Productivity puzzle

General secretary Mike Clancy said productivity was at the heart of many of the challenges facing the UK economy. Despite new jobs and economic growth, UK productivity still does not match that of our European counterparts.

The decline of the collective voice and an untrammelled managerial authority – sometimes in the guise of performance management systems – were at the root of this productivity gap.

Even right-wing European governments have not attempted to dismantle consultation apparatus and good practice. They are using them to cement economic goals and stabilise their economies.

Clancy warned that good performance management needed a good context and environment in which to operate. The civil service seemed to incorporate the worst aspects of bad performance management processes into one system.

He told reps that Prospect’s experience – based on casework evidence – showed that public and private sector staff were deeply damaged by performance management regimes.

He said the union had to work together, use performance management to gain visibility in the workplace and generate recruitment and organising activity.

Prospect recognises the challenges but has some of the answers and can make a difference, he concluded.

Stephen Bevan from the Work Foundation said performance management systems had become more sinister since he first began observing them in 1991.

They were meant to give employees and employers a sense of purpose but had been corrupted.

Bevan gave a snapshot of the current economic position: employment recovering, but with a North-south divide; permanent employment still dominant in the economy, and average job tenure rising, despite the growth in part-time, casual work.

He outlined the many criticisms of performance management systems, which can be:

  • time-consuming
  • bureaucratic
  • subjective
  • of little benefit
  • lacking in management commitment
  • a tool for bullying.

He told reps that the key issues around performance management are:

  • the core process causes fear
  • line management capability
  • evaluation should lead to learning and
  • performance ranking (punishing the worst of the best).

Prospect negotiators then outlined the position in their areas.

Dave Allen gave an overview of the development of the performance management system in the civil service. He said its focus was on managing staff out of the service through forced distribution. This echoed an earlier anecdote from Bevan who said a Cabinet minister had confirmed that the approach was to manage people out through forced distribution.

Allen said he expected the performance management outcomes for 2014-15 to be worse than the year before. Although Prospect is talking to the civil service, he believes the solution is “wholesale change”, not tinkering with some of the details.

Steve Jary, who works on the aviation, defence and security pitch, said the system needed “trashing not tweaking”. He warned that discrimination was inevitable because of the forced distribution aspect of the system.

He said Prospect should adopt a strategy to fatally undermine the system by clogging it up with appeals and legal challenges.

Aveen McHugh, assistant secretary to the communications, media and digital sector, outlined the effect of BT’s performance management system on members. It took a very serious emotional toll on mangers and staff through its incessant nature and the need to manage exits from the organisation.

Managers were victims as well as perpetrators because of the company’s mantra to “differentiate or be differentiated”. McHugh said ‘differentiation’ was a BT euphemism for earmarking those deemed ‘eligible’ to leave employment.

Mike MacDonald, a Prospect negotiator in the energy sector outlined a more positive experience.

Northern Powergrid managed to turn a stagnant and failing pay system into one that had the support of everyone. The three drivers for success were:

  • a carefully designed system
  • clear goals and
  • acknowledgement that hard work had its reward.

Consultation between employers and trade union reps could be harnessed to create performance management systems that worked to everyone’s benefit, he concluded.

Further reports from the seminar will follow.